Unlike other genres, the survival-horror genre isn’t particularly a genre that receives much recognition and therefore not enough variety in its games. When we think survival horror we instantly think Resident Evil or Silent Hill, and usually the so-called ‘want to be’ games tend to get lost in the motion – usually due to the fact that these games are far too unoriginal and the same sort of ideas have been used over and over again. That’s what sets Cold Fear aside from those want to be games, it achieves a unique feel and gameplay style that makes this game play in a league of it’s own. It’s got the style and charisma, but is it as good as the ‘well-known’ titles though? Well, if not. It still did a darn good job of keeping us satisfied.
The game starts off a little rocky (bad sea pun) with the recently constructed oil rig platform named the ‘Star of Sakhalin’, built in the Bering Sea, becoming under suspicion from the CIA. Shortly after it’s construction, the oil rig stopped producing oil, and ceased production thereafter. Strangely enough, a whaler that regularly docked at the rig, was seen loading and offloading suspicious items that particularly interested the CIA. This is where you step in, Tom Hansen (lead character) and his team are called in to board the bloodstained decks of an abandoned whaler ship, of which is drifting aimlessly in the US waters off Alaska, to investigate what exactly happened to the special units team that had mysteriously disappeared before them, and to ultimately find out what mysterious experiments were undergone in both the ship and the oil rig. Boarding the ship is no easy task though, due to the hazardous weather conditions, and this is where Tom soon finds himself separated from the rest of the team, leaving you alone to investigate the mysteries of the ship and to hopefully come in contact with your fellow teammates. You’re on your own at this point, as you move from the deck through the bowels of the ship, encountering creatures that defy nature and also coming in contact will Russian Merchants desperate to keep you from finding out what exactly went so horribly wrong, as it usually does in survival horror games and movies.
Cold Fear spans it’s little adventure over two central areas, the Russian Whaling Vessel and the Russian Oil rig, the Star of Sakhalin. Gamers will begin their adventure on the Whaler ship, trying to discover what exactly is going on in this daunting vessel and to hopefully come in contact with other life forms (presumably ‘friendly’ human life forms of course). Due to the game being set on the vicious sea, the game constantly sways as if you’re truly in the mist of a hazardous sea storm. The rough seas are portrayed nicely with the ravage waves crashing against the boat, and therefore onto the deck, turning regular movement on the deck into more of a puzzle, as you must time your movement against every wave. The game constantly uses a rocky and swaying effect that immerses gamers into the excitement of the game more than ever. Rather than being a ‘cute’ little inclusion, DarkWorks has utilized this idea into a number of its puzzles and movement across the oil rig and boat. In addition, this effect also plays a part in when gamers are trying to aim. Since the boat/oil rig is always moving, more so in certain situations, it can often effect how you shoot and aim at an enemy. If for example you’re trying to make a precise headshot and a sudden crash of a wave to the boat, you’ll find your shot hitting the ceiling rather than the creature’s head. The idea might seem like a gimmick, and may result in frustration, but it never affected how we played the game and only made the experience even more lively than expected.
Cold Fear integrates the Resident Evil 4 style of the over the shoulder view, whilst also utilizing the traditional static camera views, setting Cold Fear with a nice little mixture that provides gamers with a bit of variety in the way they play. The over the shoulder view only comes into practice when gamers press the aim button, which provides gamers the ability to shoot and obviously aim at their target (similar to how Resident Evil 4 plays). While in this view gamers use the PS2’s left analog stick to move, whilst the right analog stick provides freedom of control in allowing gamers to change the angles as they please. On the other hand, however, the static camera view often causes a battle of it’s own, like witnessed in a lot of survival horror games. Whilst the static camera adds to the cinematic qualities of the game, the jumping from angle to angle sometimes causes the controls to become a little confusing, and often leaves gamers missing vital items in the rooms. The other problem with having access to two camera angles is that Tom can only run whilst in the static camera view, which is the worse view to witness during certain occasions in big rooms and/or rooms filled with plenty of enemies.
In similar context to the original Resident Evil, gamers will encounter a number of locked or jammed doors along the way, resulting in gamers travelling around trying to unravel several task to find these keys or codes that provide access to these ‘blocked’ areas. These sort of puzzles are always refreshing to witness, but it can often cause a lot of backtracking and running around if the gamer doesn’t know what he or she is doing – a problem that is often occurred since there’s no map included in the game at all. Sadly though, there aren’t enough complicated puzzles that causes gamers to actual ‘think’ – the ones the Resident Evil series is famed for – rather Cold Fear includes the sort of puzzles that are easy enough to understand by every step you take, you know, the typical time or get sliced puzzles.
Like all survival-horror games, gamers will have access to a nice variety of weaponry – all effective in each of their own right. You’ll start the game with the traditional handgun (equipped with flashlight and infra-red laser), and as you’ll progress throughout the game you’ll discover some additional weaponry – weapons such as the much loved shotgun and also a prototype weapon used against the exocels (or zombies) - that makes shooting that little bit more exciting.
The game’s AI is nicely presented also. Zombies aren’t exactly dumb in this case and will actually try to avoid attacks, work in numbers and will often use the surrounding environment to their advantage. Rather than having just zombies as enemies there are Russian Merchants also, that will do whatever they possibly can to shoot you down. They’ll hide behind cover, roll out and fire and will time their attacks. There’s also a number of future creatures further in the game that come equipped with some precise and effective AI abilities.
Survival-horror games have always had trouble of utilizing save points, and Cold Fear doesn’t do much to improve on this thought. Resident Evil has the ink ribbon method, which often causes problems because of the placement of the typewriters and the number of ink ribbon provide, whereas Cold Fear presents the checkpoint save method, where getting up to a certain area in the game a option to save will appear. While the idea sounds good, it’s not, well on most occasions at least. The problem with this feature is that these checkpoints are more poorly place than not. Further in the game there will be sequences that will take gamers up to an hour before finding the next checkpoint, which can become frustrating if making a mistake and having to replay it all over again. Whilst on the other hand there are the much ‘easier’ sequences that will have checkpoints five minutes a part from one another. It’s a confusing feature and will often cause gamers to scream with frustration in having to repeat the more boring areas of the game.
Whilst the gameplay of Cold Fear is an up and down sort of ride (kind of like a boat on the sea – get it? Ah forget it), the game’s graphical side is remarkably top-notch for the PS2 hardware, and believe it or not, the PS2 version is probably the best-looking version out of the three (Xbox, PS2 and PC) versions. It’s a stunning feeling to witness how the characters react to their surround environment. Whilst on the boat you’ll be tossed side to side as waves crash into the side time after time. Character animation during this moment will look as though they’re reaching for something to grab onto to stay on board, rather than being tossed about like a bunch of rag dolls. The weather effects are also presented quite nicely, which is another area that Cold Fear seems to shine above the rest. For example, when players are moving towards the rain or wind Tom will actually cover his eyes so he can focus on what’s front of him.
Another feature that surprised us was the character models and animation, since they moved and looked like humans (or creatures in some cases). Each character had it’s own style of movement, be it lingering, hunched over or a fast & ferocious style of movement – it all looked great. Tom had a nice grasped on his surroundings, often moving his head and eyes to dead bodies on the ground, items he noticed below water and important items that the casual gamer eye couldn’t pick up. The animation and model work made this game feel and play like a realistic horrific nightmare – that’s a compliment. The only real downside to the graphics, or more so the environment programming rather, is that there isn’t enough freedom in interaction between the player and the environment. For example, in the kitchen there will be saucepans hanging up, but no matter how many shots are made to them, no reaction will be made. That also presents the issue of why couldn’t gamers shoot out room lights. Although it would alter the way you play the game, it wouldn’t have a drastic effect on the experience since Tom is equipped with a flashlight. Despite there being scripted areas in the game where the lights suddenly ‘blow’ out or turn off completely, it would’ve added to the suspense if there was further interaction with the surrounding environment.
Similar to the game’s visuals, the audio in Cold Fear sets the scene and builds the tension in all the right places, making for a terrifying experience along the way. The music will often change in pace to increase the tension in the game and even making the music so eerie that it’ll cause your stomach to sink. However, the music isn’t necessary used to the best of its ability. There are times throughout the game where you’ll hear music you wouldn’t even expect to hear in a survival-horror game (sort of like those up-beat electronic songs), which at times ruins the experience, since it hardly feels like a survival-horror game anymore, more like an action adventure game that’s well-known for having bizarre and unpredictable tracks. Another negative is the fact that Cold Fear doesn’t create enough tension throughout the game to make you actually feel alone through it’s music – a perfect example of this is the eerie music witnessed in either Resident Evil or Silent Hill. The sound effects in Cold Fear are on a par and especially help to immerse gamers into the world of Tom Hansen. Waves crashing, rain hitting the decks, the old cracks on the floorboards all help to create the audible impressions of the perfect storm. The game’s voice acting isn’t the greatest of all, the Russian accents are often over-exaggerated, but each still convinces a lively and believable experience.
All in all I enjoyed my time playing through Cold Fear, it was an amazing experience for a long-time survival-horror fan. The game was able to capture all the important features of the genre and even recreated some oldies and utilized them throughout the game. Unfortunately Cold Fear’s story was a little predictable later in the game, and the idea sounds very familiar amongst survival-horror fans, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a great story, just not that original. I had an absolute blast with the game’s weaponry and the ideas behind the deaths of killing the creatures ( the last boss was done quite nicely) were done extremely well. A minor downfall to the game is that I didn’t necessarily feel scared during the game. Sure I’ll admit that there were moments in the game that will surprise gamers around each corner, but a lot of the ‘scary’ moments were vastly predictable - I didn’t feel isolated in a terrifying world like I’ve experienced time after time with the Resident Evil series. Sadly, like all good things, they end. And at the end of Cold Fear there wasn’t much left for me to do, which was unfortunate since the gameplay style of Cold Fear was done surprisingly well. Cold Fear was a lot better than we had original expected, but failed to take advantage of what he had to offer. Nevertheless, we still had a thrilling ride to the very end.